By Mother Susan Rueve, OSF
For The Catholic Messenger
The Season of Advent is all about getting ready for the coming of our Lord. The purpose of Advent is twofold. First, to remember the actual birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, while also reflecting on the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary’s “yes;” and secondly, to look forward to the promise of the second coming of Christ while contemplating how our personal “yes” will play out.
Has the world forgotten? It seems that after Thanksgiving we jump into a type of Christmas bypassing Advent altogether. And lately, “Christmas” can begin as early as September even before Halloween! It is no wonder Christmas decorations start disappearing the day after Christmas when really it is just the start of the Christmas season. In these previous months, people are exhausted from engaging in the Holi-“daze” instead of being inspired by the holy days that the Church, taking us by the hand, lovingly guides us through — if we let her.
This Sunday marks the first Sunday of Advent and the start of the Advent season. Advent will continue for the next three Sundays until Christmas Eve and the greatly anticipated Christmas Day. There will be subtle changes in the décor of our churches to remind us we have entered a different season. The altar and the hymns become simpler. The Gloria is on hold until Christmas Eve when we join the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Something special is happening here.
There will be an Advent wreath with the four candles representing not only four Sundays of Advent but symbolizing the 4,000 years of waiting for Jesus to arrive, waiting in hopeful expectation since the fall of man to the coming of the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament. Here comes the Light of the World: Jesus Christ, when the days are the shortest and darkest. Each week, as a new candle on the wreath is lit, growing brighter and brighter, we witness (symbolically, at least) the effects of our Lord drawing nearer and nearer.
The color of the priests’ vestments will be the color violet or purple (similar to Lent and usually a penitential expression) and matches the candles on the Advent wreath. But purple during Advent is used in a solemn, simple and reflective sense. First and second Sundays of Advent the priest’s vestments will be purple, then on the third Sunday, or mid-Advent; the priest will be wearing a rose (pink) vestment. The color pink represents joy. Jesus is coming. He is almost here. On the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, it’s back to purple. Our waiting is nearly over.
Lastly, there are the liturgical readings used specifically during Advent filled with good advice and practical instructions to prepare our hearts to welcome our tiny King. We are waiting and watching and making ready to welcome him. “Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:3). Pray, pray, pray. What is prayer but a conversation with God? But remember to be still and listen. It is the surest way to know God’s will. Prayer is also the essential climbing tool giving us the opportunity to rise up and “walk in the light of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:5).
Psalm 122 reminds us of the joy we can expect when we receive the perfect gift.
Paul tells us it’s time to clean house. Don’t put it off. Do it now. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” “the night is advanced, the day is at hand,” (Roman13:11-12). It is an urgent appeal to get ready — to be prepared — to go to confession. “Throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:13-14).
Matthew’s message is perseverance and the necessity for steadfastness. Stay awake! Noah did not know when the great flood would come but built the ark and was ready when it did come. We too “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24: 44).
Christmas is coming! Are you ready?